Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Richard Wagner

Music History Monday: The Mastersingers of Nuremberg

We mark the premiere performance on June 21, 1868 – 153 years ago today – of Richard Wagner’s music drama The Mastersingers of Nuremberg. The performance took place at the National Theater Munich, which today is the home of the Bavarian State Opera. Conducted by Franz Liszt’s student (and son-in-law) and Wagner’s protégé Hans von Bülow, the performance was sponsored and paid for by none-other-than the mad king himself, Ludwig II of Bavaria (1885-1886). Excepting Wagner’s second complete and first performed opera Das Liebesverbot (“The Ban on Love” of 1836, a work that Wagner ultimately rejected) The Mastersingers of Nuremberg was Wagner’s one-and-only operatic comedy. Wagner and Verdi: A Brief (and Important!) Comparison For all their many and seemingly irreconcilable differences, Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi had rather more in common than we might think. They were exact contemporaries, born 4 months and 19 days apart: Wagner on May 22, 1813 (he died on February 13, 1883) and Verdi on October 10, 1813 (he died on January 27, 1901). They were the leading nineteenth-century exponents of their respective operatic traditions: Verdi Italian opera and Wagner German. They were both considered ardent patriots by their countrymen, composers who, each in his own […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes Siegfried Idyll

Yesterday’s Music History Monday marked the 144th anniversary of the premiere of Richard Wagner’s music drama Götterdämmerung (“The Twilight of the Gods), the fourth and final installment of his epic tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelungs. As we properly observed yesterday, Wagner’s Ring was and remains the greatest single undertaking in the long history of Western music. We read – here and there – that “Wagner wrote almost no instrumental music.” This is a most misleading statement, as he was a brilliant composer for orchestra and did indeed compose a significant body of orchestral music. However, it just so happens that the great bulk of that orchestral music was incorporated into his stage works as overtures, entr’actes, interludes, codas, etc. Let’s rephrase that just-quoted statement to read this way: “in his maturity, Wagner (1813-1883) wrote very few self-standing, exclusively instrumental compositions, the most famous of which is his Siegfried Idyll of 1870.” Siegfried Idyll is an exquisite work, with a fabulous back-story, and after all, how often do we get to hear and revel in a Wagnerian opus that runs but 20 minutes from beginning to end? So let’s do it! But first, let us contemplate good birth dates and […]

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Music History Monday: The Miracle at Bayreuth!

On August 17, 1876 – 144 years ago today – Richard Wagner’s music drama Götterdämmerung (“Twilight of the Gods”) received its premiere in his newly-opened “Festival Theater” in Bayreuth, Germany. That performance of Götterdämmerung brought to its conclusion the first production of Wagner’s epic four evening tetralogy, The Ring of the Niebelung.  Let’s say it up front because it needs to be said. That performance concluded what was and remains the greatest single undertaking in the history of Western music: not just Wagner’s writing and composition of the four music dramas that make up The Ring, but of the construction and opening of Wagner’s great shrine to himself: his custom-built Festival Theater in the Bavarian city of Bayreuth. The Conception and the Creation of The Ring of the Nibelung On May 16, 1849, an arrest warrant was issued by the Dresden police for the 36-year-old Richard Wagner (1813-1883). He was charged with treason due to his actions in the just terminated Dresden uprising, a charge that carried with it the death penalty. The warrant read as follows:  “Wagner is of medium stature, has brown hair, an open forehead; eyebrows, brown; eyes, grayish blue; nose and mouth, proportioned; chin, round, and […]

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Music History Monday: How to Identify a Gentleman

We would recognize a number of date-worthy events before moving on to the admittedly painful principal topic of today’s Music History Monday. Johann Christoph Graupner We recognize the birth on January 13, 1683 – 337 years ago today – of the German harpsichordist and composer Johann Christoph Graupner in the Saxon town Kirchberg. (He died 77 years later, in Darmstadt, in 1760.) Herr Graupner was known as a good and conscientious man, highly respected by his employers and students alike. He was also a competent and prolific composer, with more than 2000 surviving works in his catalog. Nevertheless, he would be totally forgotten today but for a single event in 1723. In 1722, Johann Kuhnau (1660-1722) – the chief musician for the churches and municipality of Leipzig – went on to that great clavichord in the sky. The famous Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), unhappy with his salary in Hamburg, applied for and was offered the job in Leipzig. But it was all a ploy to leverage a higher salary in Hamburg, which he received and where he remained. In early 1723, the paternal units of Leipzig then offered the job to Graupner, who accepted but whose boss – the Landgrave Ernst […]

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: My Parsifal Conductor – A play in two acts by Allan Leicht

My Parsifal Conductor opens October 11, 2018 for a limited engagement at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater at the West Side Y, 10 West 64th Street, New York, NY; presented by The Directors Company. Starring Eddie Korbich, Claire Brownwell, Geoffrey Cantor, Carlo Bosticco, Logan James Hall, Alison Cimmet, and Jazmin Gorsline, and directed by Robert Kalfin. About three weeks ago, I received an email from Matt Sicoli, a media marketer who is promoting a new, off-Broadway play entitled My Parsifal Conductor, written by the Emmy and Writer’s Guild Winner Allan Leicht. Mr. Sicoli generously offered tickets in exchange for advertising and promotion. I informed him that I am keeping both my Facebook and Patreon sites free of advertising (for now), but that I’d be happy to read the script and, pending an enthusiastic response, write about the play. I am most enthusiastic and thus this post. Here is a synopsis provided by Mr. Sicoli: “Musical genius Richard Wagner (Eddie Korbich) and his ever-faithful wife, Cosima (Claire Brownell), find themselves in a moral, political and musical dilemma when King Ludwig II of Bavaria (Carlo Bosticco) insists that Hermann Levi (Geoffrey Cantor), the son of a rabbi, conduct Wagner’s final masterpiece, […]

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Music History Monday: A Gift to Music

On Christmas day of 1870 – 147 years ago today – Richard Wagner’s twenty minute-long instrumental tone poem Siegfried Idyll received its premiere under circumstances to be discussed below. Originally scored for a chamber orchestra of 13 players (flute, oboe, two clarinets, bassoon, two horns, trumpet, two violins, viola, cello and bass), Wagner expanded the orchestration to 35 players when the piece was published in 1878. Let us contemplate, for a moment, what must be considered the second-worst date to be born, second only to February 29 (the birthday of Gioachino Rossini and Dinah Shore but also the serial killers Aileen Wuornos and Richard Ramirez; pretty creepy company). That second-worst birthdate is today: December 25. For someone born into a family that observes Christmas, a Christmas birthday is, frankly, a rip off, as Christmas and birthday get rolled into a single celebration, the whole usually lesser than the parts. As for gifts, well, a December 25th birthday is (or so I’ve been told) is a catastrophe. (How many times have these unfortunate celebrants heard the line, “we decided to give you one big present this year”? Sure. Right.) Among the many good people born on December 25 are Clara Barton, […]

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Music History Monday: The Wagner Conundrum

May 22 is a day so rich in music history that choosing a particular event to write about might seem to be a challenge. For example, May 22, 1790 saw the first performance of Mozart’s String Quartets in D, K. 575 and B-flat, K. 589 (the first two of the three so-called “Prussian Quartets”) at his flat in Vienna. May 22, 1874 saw the first performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s in-all-ways extraordinary Requiem, conducted by Verdi himself at the Church of San Marco in Milan. Four years ago today – on May 22, 2013 – the marvelous French composer Henri Dutilleux died in Paris at the age of 97. (All sentient creatures should at very least know and covet Dutilleux’s Cello Concerto, entitled Tout un monde lointain… [A whole distant world…], completed in 1970 for Mstislav Rostropovich.) But frankly, these events pale in comparison with the BIG event of May 22, and that was the birth in Leipzig on May 22, 1813 – 204 years ago today – of Richard Wagner. Wagner died at the age of 69 on February 13, 1883: 134 years ago. And yet he and his work continue to inspire a level of debate, adulation and rancor that […]

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Richard Wagner: What Ever Happened To Wagner’s Manuscripts?

The scope of Nazi Germany’s crimes against humanity will forever boggle the mind. Incredibly, almost seventy years after the end of World War II, art and treasure pillaged by Nazi Germany continues to be found even as treasure hunters search for billions of dollars worth of missing gold, platinum, and diamonds. The stories of these treasure hunts read like fictional WWII thrillers by such authors as Len Deighton, Ken Follett and Jack Higgins. But sometimes the clichés hold true and fact is stranger than fiction. Hitler came to power on January 30, 1933 and blew out his diseased brain on April 30, 1945. His projected “Thousand Year Reich” lasted all of 4473 days, 4472 days too long. During the course of those 12 years the Nazis plundered art and treasure from across Europe. As the War entered its terminal phase in 1945, a frantic effort was made to hide the loot from the advancing Allies. The recent movie Monuments Men (2014) tells the story of some of the missing art, but gives no sense of the incredible scope of what was stolen and hidden. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Nazis stole at least 16,000 pieces of […]

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Revisiting “The Music of Richard Wagner” – The Ring – Part Two and Three

I’m off to Berlin tomorrow to escort a group and attend Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle at the Staatsoper, to be conducted by the ageless Daniel Barenboim. In the spirit of “spreading the informational joy” for all who might be interested, I’ve posted two more excerpts from my The Great Courses survey “The Music of Richard Wagner”: portions of Lectures 18 and 19:The Ring, Parts 2 and 3. That we will be hearing the Ring conducted by an Argentinian/Israeli Jew in Berlin is a fact so extraordinary that we must consider it for a moment. More than any other place on the planet, Berlin was the Valhalla of the twentieth century: a place of would-be gods who were put to the torch thanks to their own deranged cruelty and arrogance. We’ll be attending the Ring just a few hundred yards away from the site of Hitler’s Bunker, where he stage-managed his own “Gotterdammerung”/self-immolation as the Russians closed in during late April of 1945 and where many of Wagner’s hand-written manuscripts burned along with the Nazi leadership (an extraordinary story that I’ll save for a future posting). I had the opportunity to spend over six weeks in Berlin over the course of […]

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Revisiting “The Music of Richard Wagner”

In honor of Richard Wagner’s 200th birthday (which falls on May 22), and in anticipation of my upcoming trip to Berlin to hear the Berlin Staatsoper and Daniel Barenboim perform The Ring (about which I will blog endlessly once on site), I offer a twelve minute introduction/teaser on the Ring Cycle drawn from Lecture 17 of my Great Courses survey, “The Music of Richard Wagner”. Say what you want about Wagner – certainly, everybody else has – the man was a hellaciously great composer with a vision unique in the history of Western music. Any way you look at it, Wagner’s four evening extravaganza that is The Ring is the single most audacious creative accomplishment since the Creation itself, which, as Wagner would have happily pointed out, took six days to carry off. Many of us would deny ourselves the revelatory experience of Wagner’s art due to bladder-busting length of his works and the fact that he was, by pretty much every estimation, an awful person. Yes, Richard Wagner was capable of being a repulsive, sometimes even hateful human being. As was Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and John Belushi. Does that mean we must deny ourselves the pleasures of the […]

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